Ch.14 The Death of Hraegunar Lothbrok

Circa 863 AD

“If the porkers knew the punishment of the boar-pig,

surely they would break into the sty and hasten to

loose him from his affliction.”

The Saga of the Sons of Ragnar Lothbrok; Anonymous.

Ragnar Lothbrok by Unknown Artist

Hraegunar Lothbrok could remember it as though it had happened yesterday.  His wife, Kraka, had been awakened by a dream.  She saw her son dying out on the ice, and she blamed his half-brother for it.  “It’s Hraerik’s fault!” she had called out in her sleep.  “Hraelauger shall die because of the snow!  They both shall die because of the snow!”  Hraegunar woke his wife and asked her what she had dreamed.  She told him that she had seen her son and Hraerik battling on ice with Westmar’s berserks, but the bone skates Hraerik had built for them would not work because snow had covered the ice.  They would be slaughtered unless a sacrifice was made to Odin.

Then Hraegunar sacrificed himself, offered himself up to Odin, to stop the snows.  He marked himself with a spear and set off to attack his old enemy, King AElla of Northumbria.  His two ships were blown off course and he attacked Frankia instead.  He recaptured all the Hraes Trading Company stations King Charles the Bald had taken from him and he even sacked Paris, but he always kept in mind who he had originally planned to attack.  When he felt the time was right, Hraegunar Lothbrok Sigurdson had Frankish shipbuilders craft him two of the largest knars ever built and equipped them handsomely and manned them with as many fine warriors as the ships could carry.  He had marked himself for Odin to save two sons, so he limited himself to two ships, but he wanted to attack King AElla of Northumbria with as many men as the large knars could hold and they are enormous ships.  He learned that his wife, Kraka, did not approve of the idea because she came to him in a dream and told him the English coast was not fit for such ships, only for longships, but Ragnar did not listen to her advice.  But true to her dream message, the ships proved very difficult to handle in the North Sea and were damaged by a storm.  Ragnar did manage to beach them safely and with his army intact on the coast of Northumbria, they began to ravage and burn.

When King Ælla of Northumbria learned of the pillaging army, he mustered an overwhelming force and crushed Hraegunar’s army.  They captured the old merchant warrior and held him for a long time under terrible conditions, but he refused to die for them.  Hraegunar demanded a death befitting a warrior who had marked himself with a spear for Odin.  But King AElla was afraid to kill him; afraid of what his sons would do.  So, he held a feast for Hraegunar.  He invited all his nobles and they were sworn to secrecy and during the feast the Norse prince was brought into the center of the hall and was fed the high seat cuts and the king’s best wine while AElla selected twelve of his finest nobles and gave them poison slaked swords out of his armoury and when the food was done and Hraegunar had finished his wine he stood up and servants took his stool away and chained his hands to a tall post in the middle of the hall.  The twelve nobles circled around Hraegunar Lothbrok like vultures spiralling down on a carcase and a blood-snake would flash out and strike Hraegunar and he would stumble from the blow and the circling would continue and then another blood-snake would strike and cut him and a new wound spouted blood across the floor of AElla’s great hall.  Ten more times the blood-snakes struck, and the poison drove Hraegunar to his knees, each of the dozen wounds on his body no worse than the others, but cumulatively fatal.  No one person could be blamed for striking the mortal blow that killed Hraegunar Lothbrok Sigurdson, and certainly not King AElla, so the feast carried on for another hour as Hraegunar bled out.  “When my porkers learn of how their old boar has died, they shall surely free me from this pit of snakes,” he cried, then he collapsed.

King Ælla suddenly became fearful of the son’s of Hraegunar Lothbrok and he asked his young daughter, Blaeja, who was a healer, to go over and revive him but she said, “It is too late.  He is dead.”

“What did he cry out at the end?” AElla asked.

“He said that his porkers, meaning sons, shall free him from this pit of snakes,” she answered.

“He must have been delirious to think that that might happen.”

“I think he cursed us,” she replied.  “I told you not to torture Hraegunar or use death by poison blood-snakes to kill him.  You should have put him and his men in those god awful knarrs and sent him on his way back to Frankia.”

“How has he cursed us?  He just babbled about pigs!”

“He has made us the snakes and his sons are the swine, the mortal enemies of snakes.  If a farmer’s fields are being overrun by snakes he lets his swine out into the fields and they kill and eat all the snakes.  They are impervious to poison.  His sons shall be let out onto the battlefields of Northumbria and they shall kill all the snakes and set Hraegunar Lothbrok’s spirit free.  I fear, dear father, that we are focked!”